Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I am a Civil War reenactor that has been playing clawhammer banjo for about six months.  I got an offer to play a fretless banjo at a Civil War event last weekend and I think I would like to purchase a period banjo.  It looked like most banjos cost between $1,200 - $1,700 depending on what you wanted.  Then I discovered a Don Gardner banjo for only $375?  Is this guy for real?  It looks like the Gardners travel to reenactments and sell their prodocts.  Does anyone have any experience with Don Gardner from Gardner Dulcimers?  My first fretless banjo doesn't have to be pretty, but it must function properly.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks ...Clyde...

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Clyde,

 

I have been playing for about 6 months and I purchased my banjo from Jay Moschella.  I am very happy with it.  Check out his website for more information.  http://www.jaymoschella.com/

 

Good luck....playing minstrel banjo is very fun...but it takes a lot of practice and patience. 

 

Daniel

Thanks for the help Daniel.  I will contact Jay Moshella.  Best Wishes ...Clyde...

Daniel Pownall said:

Clyde,

 

I have been playing for about 6 months and I purchased my banjo from Jay Moschella.  I am very happy with it.  Check out his website for more information.  http://www.jaymoschella.com/

 

Good luck....playing minstrel banjo is very fun...but it takes a lot of practice and patience. 

 

Daniel

Clyde--

Don is a dulcimer maker with a good reutation.  I have a pre-Civil War banjo that he made a "coffin case" for.  I've been very happy with it.  I didn't know he made banjos.  You may be able to ask him if you could "test drive" one.--Rob Morrison

My first banjo was a Gardner. I would not have purchased one otherwise. I was at a huge muster in Jackson Mich, and I stopped by his booth. It was kind of crude, but certainly good enough to experiment with and see if I liked it or not. I would never have laid out the money for an expensive quality banjo at first..nor should anyone be expected to. The one I had was actually a hand drum with a neck stuck on it. It got me started, and then I got a better one. Don has "upped his game" and has several instruments with hardware, still reasonably priced. I don't know why he does not put them up on his site.  
Thanks for the advice Rob.  Don sent me photos of the banjo and sound clips, he claims he has been making banjos for 10 years.  The price just seems considerably less than other banjo makers charge.  I feel a little better already knowing  that Don has a good reputation as a dulcimer maker.   Thanks again.  ....Clyde...

Rob Morrison said:

Clyde--

Don is a dulcimer maker with a good reutation.  I have a pre-Civil War banjo that he made a "coffin case" for.  I've been very happy with it.  I didn't know he made banjos.  You may be able to ask him if you could "test drive" one.--Rob Morrison

Thanks for the reply Tim.  I really appreciate your insight in dealing with a Gardner banjo in the past.  Based on everyones advice, I have decided to purchase a Gardner.  Now another question guys, where do I go from here?  I don't think there are any teachers in Southwest Washington State.  Any books, or anything you would recommend to help me get started?  thanks,  ...Clyde...

Tim Twiss said:
My first banjo was a Gardner. I would not have purchased one otherwise. I was at a huge muster in Jackson Mich, and I stopped by his booth. It was kind of crude, but certainly good enough to experiment with and see if I liked it or not. I would never have laid out the money for an expensive quality banjo at first..nor should anyone be expected to. The one I had was actually a hand drum with a neck stuck on it. It got me started, and then I got a better one. Don has "upped his game" and has several instruments with hardware, still reasonably priced. I don't know why he does not put them up on his site.  

 

Now another question guys, where do I go from here? 

 

 

The Flesher Book is really good.

http://www.drhorsehair.com/

There is a lot of material in The Banjo Clubhouse.

http://www.milfordmusic.com/Banjo%20Audio.htm

 

And of course, open question to all the great folks right here.

 

 

Clyde--

I second Tim's recommendation for Bob Flesher's "Minstrel Banjo Stroke Style" book, which, I believe comes with a CD.  Joseph Weidlich also has three easily accessible  books called "Minstrel Banjo,"  "More Minstrel Banjo," and "The Early Minstrel Banjo."  The latter features both tab and standard musical notation.  Then there are the Joe Ayers reproductions of the tutors of Briggs, Buckley, Converse, and Rice.  These are, of course in musical notation.  They're sometimes hard to get, but occasionally one or more are available on Amazon.com or ebay.  If you like Stephen Foster songs there is a book called "With a Banjo on my Knee," by Daniel Partner and Edwin Sims.  It comes with a CD.  There are many other sources available, of course, but please don't forget to also learn to play by ear.  This is undoubtedly the way the first generation of players learned to play and is every bit as much a vital part of the tradition as any other.  Many of the tunes in the aforementioned texts are variations of the same or similar tunes in other texts.  With few exceptions, at least for the earlier stroke-style tunes, there are no definitive versions.--Rob Morrison

Thank you Rob and Tim for your suggestions on books.  I have been to the Dr. Horse Hair site and I will be ordering the Flesher Book for starters.  Thanks for the help guys.  Take Care.  ...Clyde...

Rob Morrison said:

Clyde--

I second Tim's recommendation for Bob Flesher's "Minstrel Banjo Stroke Style" book, which, I believe comes with a CD.  Joseph Weidlich also has three easily accessible  books called "Minstrel Banjo,"  "More Minstrel Banjo," and "The Early Minstrel Banjo."  The latter features both tab and standard musical notation.  Then there are the Joe Ayers reproductions of the tutors of Briggs, Buckley, Converse, and Rice.  These are, of course in musical notation.  They're sometimes hard to get, but occasionally one or more are available on Amazon.com or ebay.  If you like Stephen Foster songs there is a book called "With a Banjo on my Knee," by Daniel Partner and Edwin Sims.  It comes with a CD.  There are many other sources available, of course, but please don't forget to also learn to play by ear.  This is undoubtedly the way the first generation of players learned to play and is every bit as much a vital part of the tradition as any other.  Many of the tunes in the aforementioned texts are variations of the same or similar tunes in other texts.  With few exceptions, at least for the earlier stroke-style tunes, there are no definitive versions.--Rob Morrison

Dan'l--

You are correct that many banjos with union shields and eagles were manufactured during Reconstruction.  However, the J. H. Buckbee Company made very simple inexpensive banjos with eagle brackets all through the Civil War up to almost the turn of the century.  I don't know whether a Confederate soldier would have much access to them, as they were made in New York, but it is at least conceivable and not necessarily anachronistic.  J. H. Buckbee also made drums for the Union troops, decorated with eagles. --Rob Morrison 

Rob and Dan'l:

 

Thanks for the background information on J. H. Buckbee banjos.  I happened to have ordered the Gardner banjo with the eagle shoes and I am a Union soldier in the 20th Maine Co. F so I guess I could get away it all.  So far there are only two other people in our entire organization that are interested in minstrel banjo way out here in Washington State, so right now no one is being too pickey.  ...Clyde... 

Rob Morrison said:

Dan'l--

You are correct that many banjos with union shields and eagles were manufactured during Reconstruction.  However, the J. H. Buckbee Company made very simple inexpensive banjos with eagle brackets all through the Civil War up to almost the turn of the century.  I don't know whether a Confederate soldier would have much access to them, as they were made in New York, but it is at least conceivable and not necessarily anachronistic.  J. H. Buckbee also made drums for the Union troops, decorated with eagles. --Rob Morrison 

Clyde,

I'm going to tell everyone I encounter at Port Gamble what a farb you are.  A Gardner with eagle shoes might be okay for someone in any other company of the 20th Maine, but Co. F?  You gotta be kidding me.  I haven't seen anything about anyone in Co. F carrying a Gardner with eagle shoes.  Chamberlain himself hangs his head in shame and shakes it subtly in disbelief.

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